"[My] men charged at a run and Lee's cavalry was forced...into the woods in all directions to avoid the rush of our men and their biting sabres".
The first regular army officer to be wounded in the Civil War, he went on to become a major general and was Sherman’s cavalry chief on the March to the Sea. By war’s end, only Sheridan was more prominent than he in the Union cavalry. When General George B. McClellan's Army...
The first regular army officer to be wounded in the Civil War, he went on to become a major general and was Sherman’s cavalry chief on the March to the Sea. By war’s end, only Sheridan was more prominent than he in the Union cavalry. When General George B. McClellan's Army of the Potomac sailed down the coast to the Virginia Peninsula on April 1, 1862, its goal was to take the Confederate capitol of Richmond by attacking from the east.
To maintain pressure on the enemy from multiple directions and thus catch them in a pincer, some Union forces needed to remain north of Richmond. Kilpatrick and his 2d N.Y. Cavalry was one of the units that remained behind, and it conducted raids through northern Virginia. This letter reports its (and Kilpatrick’s) first actual engagement with Confederate troops.
Letter Signed as colonel of his first command, the 2nd N.Y. Cavalry (popularly known as the Harris Light Cavalry), which became one of the great fighting regiments of the war, 3 pages, Camp near Falmouth, Va., April 20, 1862, to the Governor of New York. “I have the honor to report that in the march from Catlett’s Station to Falmouth, a distance of 28 miles, the 2nd New York Cavalry had the front, and as you have already learned, no doubt, met the enemy’s cavalry about 3 miles south of the Spotted Tavern, where my advanced guard received the first fire and charge of the Rebels, and where our men proved that they could not only receive, sustain, but return a blow, and we saw the backs of our foe from that point to within a mile of Col. [Rooney] Lee’s camp. We skirmished with the enemy driving him before us. Col. Lee’s whole force had left his camp to give us battle. I ordered Major Davies with his battalion forward. Although this battalion had not yet been engaged, they charged at a run and Lee’s cavalry was forced on fences into the woods in all directions to avoid the rush of our men and their biting sabres. We took several prisoners, killed and wounded five, and captured many horses. I regret to state that Lt. Nelson J. Decker of Co. D fell at the head of his men, at the site of the Rebel camp. A brave soldier and more gallant gentleman the Army does not furnish. In the affair of the morning of the 18th inst. my regiment and Col. Bayard’s 1st Penna. Cavalry were ambushed. The officers and men alike bore themselves like soldiers of many battles, charging the enemy under the most difficult circumstances, and yet every time successful. In the affair we lost 6 killed and 13 wounded, besides 19 horses. I take great pleasure in bringing to your favorable notice Capt. J.F. Cooke and his Lieutenant of Co. B who met the first shock of the enemy – Major Davies who in both affairs handled his battalion with the greatest skill and coolness – Capt. McIrvin and his Lieut. – Capt. Milligan and Lts. Morgan and Ferris – who charged up to and over the Rebel barricade. We hope that in this, our first engagement, we have won an honorable position among the many regiments you, Sir, have sent from the great State of New York, to battle for the Constitution and the cause of Right….”
This is the first battle report by a leading general of either army that we have had, and describing Kilpatrick’s first engagement in command, is historic indeed.
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